A Bugs Bunny cartoon, or The Story of Termite Terrace, or a shaggy gopher story.
Club Paradise is a serenely ironic view of the culture war that has devoured so much of American life, which can hardly be pleasing to the combatants and has, for that reason, suffered unfairly in the critical estimation, such as it is. If it plumps for the counterculture, in a way, as against the management revolution, it does so in the name of democracy, and with a great deal of detachment.
This decisive scene is filmed as precisely a military confrontation on the island of St. Nicholas, between the ganja-smoking employees of a small resort and the island troops personally led by the prime minister (Adolph Caesar), who is in cahoots with a sheik to develop St. Nicholas. The governor (Peter O’Toole) in dress uniform rides up and decides the issue on the spot. The resemblance of this to the conclusion of Satyajit Ray’s The Chess Players is perhaps fortuitous.
Critics who probably had no idea what this was all about mainly focused on the plenteous jokes as unsupported, and on Robin Williams (co-owner of the resort) as fiddling in a void, but here as always the critics are simply hors de combat.
The satire is absolutely even, between the sportive nebbishes who fumblingly patronize the resort, and the connivers who plot to take it from them. It’s only with humorous distaste that Ramis sides with the hapless “people” here. It’s not exactly Hobson’s choice, only the most traditional and conservative one for an American director, taking the long view of necessity.
What has been thought by some to be a want of technical skill is actually a leading tendency toward the style of the Beach Blanket movies, without I think calling too much attention to itself. The performances are wonderful insofar as anybody has cared to perceive them.
Or, if you like, Club Paradise is a pretty good spoof of Casablanca and To Have and Have Not in a Jamaican perspective, as well as making a double bill with J. Lee Thompson’s Caboblanco, another fine film much despised.
If I were a film critic, I would say this must have happened, and to Harold Ramis. But that’s the way it is with criticism, it starts out bitter and shallow, as a rule, and through the ages it acquires wisdom, generally speaking.
The inspiration may have been Borges’ well-known fiction, “The Secret Miracle,” about the playwright before a firing squad who is granted sufficient time to finish composing his masterpiece in his head before the fired bullets reach him.
Whitman has a poem (“There was a child went forth”) which explains both works a little (it describes scenes and people in the poet’s boyhood, and says, “These became part of that child who went forth every day, and who now goes, and will always go forth every day.”).
There is a curious connection between these two pieces of Whitman (whom Santayana called “a barbarian poet”) and Borges (an admirer of Whitman). Whitman’s poem begins, “There was a child went forth every day, / And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became, / And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day, / Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.” Now, the Borges story has a superscription from the Koran, in which the nearly identical phrase appears: “And God had him die for a hundred years and then revived him and said:
‘How long have you been here?’
‘A day or a part of a day,’ he answered.”
So, believe it or not, this is a gangland adaptation of The President’s Analyst (Theodore J. Flicker meets Francis Ford Coppola). The resolution is a careful borrowing from The Nutty Professor, very neat.
Robert De Niro in this part is like Dudley Moore playing jazz piano: at the risk of stepping on a lot of toe-tappers, it’s a pleasure to see a performance so well-tempered. Billy Crystal makes it possible to imagine Sam Jaffe as the psychotherapist (opposite Paul Muni?), and Lisa Kudrow plays it like Teri Garr.